Science fiction films don’t always age well, what with rapidly evolving special effects and a limited amount of rubbery stuff we can put on people to make them look like aliens. But, even if our current wallpapers looks more futuristic than sci-fi films of yesteryear, many were overlooked at the time and still work (for the most part).
Many of the following films did not shock the world by any means when they came out, and didn’t perform well at the box office, no matter how much popcorn people bought. Still, they’re solid entries in the genre and tend to only get mentioned when idiots like me put them in lists like this.
The Arrival (the one with Charlie Sheen)
Sometimes when a movie doesn’t do well with audiences, producers in the future have no issue with releasing another movie of the same name in the same genre. It’s a big middle finger to the previous one. So you’ve likely heard of Arrival with Amy Adams, but maybe not the one with Charlie Sheen.
Even though it’s Charlie Sheen and he’s playing a guy named Zane, the movie’s decent, I swear. He discovers a radio transmission from space, and soon finds out that aliens are starting to redecorate Earth to their liking. No ground is being broken here, but the film works as a simple 90s sci fi thriller that follows its plot to a logical conclusion, with some amusing gadgetry and special effects that still hold up. Perhaps it would have done better if they got rid of the “The.”
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Old-fashioned adventure stories are hard to come by, and this one feels almost feels like an 1930s sci-fi serial, the kind of movie a kid would imagine after attending a World’s Fair. Gigantic flying robots attack Manhattan (would be a good name for a musical), and scientists are mysteriously disappearing, all of which points to the enigmatic Dr. Totenkopf, voiced by the long-dead at that point Laurence Olivier.
Sky Captain (Jude Law) and Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) set off. The movie is nostalgic and adventurous, filled with planes and zeppelins in a sepia-colored film that looks like an old photograph come to life. Director Kerry Conran initially created a six-minute version on his Macintosh, and it later caught the attention of a producer who financed the full-length feature. Meanwhile, no producer is interested in all the garbage I made on my old Macintosh. Unbelievable!
2010: The Year We Make Contact
Is there a sequel that had more pressure on it than 2010? Few are aware this films exists, and yet it’s shockingly decent considering what it had to live up to. 2010 is far more pragmatic and straightforward than its famous poet brother, but it offers a respectably entertaining and logical conclusion to the original story. That said, if you’re a person who enjoys the mystery of 2001 and doesn’t want the story to keep going, feel free to avoid it.
A joint Soviet-American expedition sets off to Jupiter to investigate the fate of the crew in the last film, all while the two superpowers are on the brink of nuclear war back home. What transpires is a smart 80s sci-fi movie that no one will hail as a masterpiece (and it’s not), but offers solid special effects with cogent explanations for that other film we all pretend to understand.
If 2010 was outshone by its predecessor, THX 1138 lost out to the space opera that George Lucas followed it with. There are no THX 1138 Robert Duvall toys last time I checked. But the film crosses all of the bases in a proper dystopian story, replete with minimalistic sets and creepy sounds and characters trying to escape it all.
Mankind lives in vast underground cities controlled by computers where free will is outlawed as a result of forced medication. But when THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) and LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) miss a dose, they wake up and realize those names are terrible. Then to make things worse, they fall in love, and the robot police are none too happy about it. The film is light on plot but retains a unique vision, and this being a Lucas film, the vehicles still look fantastic.
The Iron Giant
As a kid when I was new in town, I really could have used a giant robot to pal around with like The Iron Giant, and every kid who sees this film will want one of their own. Based on Ted Hughes’ Cold War fable, the film takes place in 1957 as a giant robot crash-lands near a small town in Maine and become friends with a 9-year-old boy. Of course, the government wants to be friends with the robot too, and problems ensue.
With elements of E.T. and My Neighbor Totoro, The Iron Giant is a charming story that’s part adventure and coming of age tale. It’s about more than a kid trying to hide a giant robot, but that’s what I came away with after watching it, and realized that if I had been given a big robot at that age, this would be a movie about how the U.S. and Soviets united to fight a kid and his robot trying to take over the world.